Category Archives: D. A. Carson

December 31 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

2 Chronicles 36; Revelation 22; Malachi 4; John 21

 

of all the resurrection appearances of Jesus, doubtless the one that probed Peter most deeply is the one reported in John 21.

It starts off with seven disciples going fishing, catching nothing overnight, and then pulling in a vast catch at Jesus’ command. It continues with a breakfast over coals on the beach (21:1–14). There follows the memorable exchange that reinstates Peter after his ignominious disowning of his master.

(1) In the interchange between Jesus and Peter (21:15–17), the interplay of two different Greek words for “love” has convinced many commentators that there is something profoundly weighty about the distinction (though the distinction itself is variously explained). For various reasons, I remain unpersuaded. John loves to use synonyms, with very little distinction in meaning. The terms vary for feed/take care/feed, and for lambs/sheep/sheep, just as they varied for “love.” In 3:35, the Father “loves” the Son, and one of the two verbs is used; in 5:20, the Father “loves” the Son, and the other of the two verbs is used—and there is no distinction in meaning whatsoever. Both verbs can have good or bad connotations; everything is determined by context. If we are to probe the significance of this exchange between Jesus and Peter, we shall have to depend on something other than the interchange of the two Greek verbs. So drop the “truly” in 21:15 and 16 (which is the NIV’s way of trying to maintain a distinction between the two verbs).

(2) “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (21:15, italics added). Does “these” refer to “these other disciples” or to “these fish”? In Matthew 26:33, Peter boasts that he will never fall away, even if all the other disciples do. That boast is not reported in John’s gospel, even though John records Peter’s awful denials. Alternatively, since the men have just been fishing, perhaps “these” refers to the fish. But if so, why pick only on Peter, and not on all seven disciples? On balance, I suspect this passage is reminding Peter of his fateful boast, and this is one of the passages that provides a kind of interlocking of accounts between John and the Synoptic Gospels. Is Peter still prepared to assert his moral superiority over the other disciples?

(3) Three times Jesus runs through the same question; three times he elicits a response; three times he commissions Peter. As the denial was threefold (18:15–18, 25–27), so also are these steps of restoration. Peter is “hurt” by the procedure (21:17); the next verses show he still retains streaks of immaturity (see vol. 1, meditation for March 31). But while Jesus here gladly restores a broken disciple who has disowned him, he makes him face his sin, declare his love, and receive a commission.[1]

 

[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 31 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

2 Chronicles 36; Revelation 22; Malachi 4; John 21

 

both of our primary readings for this last day of the year convey hope.

The first, 2 Chronicles 36, depicts the final destruction of Jerusalem. The Babylonians raze the city and the leading citizenry are transported seven or eight hundred miles from home. But the closing verses admit a whisper of hope. Babylon does not have the last word. Decades later the Persian empire takes over and becomes the regional superpower, and Cyrus the king authorizes the return of the exiles to Jerusalem and the construction of a new temple. Historically, of course, the Persians established this policy for all the peoples that the Babylonians had transported: they were all permitted to return home. But the chronicler rightly sees the application of this policy to Israel as supreme evidence of the hand of God, and a new stage in the history of redemption that would bring about the fulfillment of all God’s promises.

The hope depicted in the second reading, Revelation 22, is of a superior order. The opening verses complete the vision of Revelation 21. The blessedness of the consummation turns on such matters as these: the water of life flows freely from the throne of God and of the Lamb; all the results of the curse are expunged; God’s people will constantly see his face, i.e., they will forever be in his presence; there are no more cycles of night and day—again, the point is moral, not astronomical, i.e., there will be no more cycles of good and evil, of light and darkness, for all will live in the light of God.

Granted the sheer goodness and glory of this sustained and symbol-laden vision of the consummation and the triumph of redemption, the rest of the chapter is largely devoted to assuring the reader of the utter reliability of this vision, and therefore of the absolute importance of being among those “who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city” (22:14). Here, then, is the ultimate hope, such that if one turns away this time, there is no more hope. There is only a fearful anticipation of final wrath. We are not there yet, the author says, but the climax is not far away, and when it comes, it will be too late.

The resurrected and exalted Jesus, the one who is the Root and Offspring of David and the bright Morning Star (22:16), solemnly declares, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (22:12–13).[1]

 

[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 30 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

2 Chronicles 35; Revelation 21; Malachi 3; John 20

 

people may be faithless, but the Lord does not change. That changelessness threatens judgment; it is also the reason the people are not destroyed (Mal. 3:6). Hope depends on God’s gracious intervention, grounded in his changeless character (Mal. 3).

(1) “ ‘See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty” (3:1). This promise sounds as if it is responding to the cynicism that set in after the second temple was built. There was the temple, but where was the glory Ezekiel had foreseen (Ezek. 43:1–5)? Only when the Lord comes will the purpose of the rebuilding of the temple be fulfilled. And the Lord will fulfill that promise. First, he will send his “messenger,” a forerunner “to prepare the way before me.” And then suddenly “the Lord you are seeking” will come to his temple, “the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire.” Despite valiant efforts to explain the text some other way, the most obvious reading is the one picked up just a few pages later in the Bible (though actually a few centuries later). Before the Lord himself comes—the Lord they seek, the messenger of the new covenant long promised—there is another messenger who prepares the way. Jesus insists that the forerunner of whom Malachi spoke is none other than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:10).

(2) Whenever God discloses himself in a special way to his people, and not least in this climactic self-disclosure, there is wrath as well as mercy. Anticipation of the “day of his coming” (3:2) therefore calls for profound repentance (3:2–5). Such repentance covers the sweep from the ugly sins listed in 3:5 to something more easily passed over, but clearly ugly to God: robbery, robbing God of the tithes and offerings that are his due (3:6–12). Away with the cynicism that says serving God is a waste of time and money, that there is no percentage in putting God at the center, that it is “futile” to serve the Lord (3:13–15).

(3) Not a few of the Old Testament prophets faithfully discharged their ministry and saw little fruit in their own times. Others witnessed something of a revival. Haggai saw the Lord so work among the people that the temple was rebuilt. Malachi, too, saw fruit in the lives of those who heeded his message and began to live in the light of the promise yet to be fulfilled: “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other [presumably encouraging and stimulating one another to faithfulness], and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name” (3:16).[1]

 

[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 30 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

2 Chronicles 35; Revelation 21; Malachi 3; John 20

 

at last we reach the climax of redemption (Rev. 21). In his final vision, John sees “a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1). Some notes:

(1) The absence of any sea (21:1) does not establish the hydrological principles of the new heaven and new earth. The sea, as we have noted before, is symbolic for chaos, the old order, death. And so the sea is gone.

(2) John also sees “the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (21:2). We are not to place this New Jerusalem within the new heaven and the new earth. They are two quite separate images of the final reality, two ways of depicting the one truth—not unlike the Lion and the Lamb in Revelation 5, where although there are two animals there is only one Jesus to whom these two animals refer. One way of thinking about the consummated glory is to conceive of it as a new universe, a new heaven and earth; another way of thinking about it is as the New Jerusalem—with many entailments to this latter image.

(3) Yet a third way of thinking of the consummation is to focus on the marriage supper of the Lamb (21:2, 9; cf. 19:9)—and here the bride is the New Jerusalem. The metaphors have become wonderfully mixed. But all can see that the consummation will involve perfect intimacy between the Lord Jesus and the people he has redeemed.

(4) Doubtless the perfections of the New Jerusalem are so far outside our experience that it is difficult to imagine them. But one way of getting at them is by negation: we are to understand what ugly things connected with sin and decay will not be present: there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (21:4).

(5) The city is an inherently social reality. The consummation is not a place of lone-ranger spirituality. Nor are all cities bad, like “Babylon,” the mother of prostitutes (chapter 17; see meditation for December 26). This city, the New Jerusalem, is described in many symbol-laden ways to depict its wonder and glory—too many to unpack here. But note that it is built as a perfect cube. This no more reflects its architecture than the lack of sea betrays the ultimate hydrological arrangements. The cube is symbolic: there is only one cube in the Old Testament, and that is the Most Holy Place of the temple, where only the priest could enter once a year, bearing blood for his own sins and for the sins of the people. Now the entire city is the Most Holy Place: in the consummation all of God’s people are perennially in the unshielded splendor of his glorious presence.[1]

 

[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 29 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

2 Chronicles 34; Revelation 20; Malachi 2; John 19

 

one of the signs that a culture is coming apart is that its people do not keep their commitments. When those commitments have been made to or before the Lord, as well as to one another, the offense is infinitely compounded.

There is something attractive and stable about a society in which, if a person gives his or her word, you can count on it. Huge deals can be sealed with a handshake because each party trusts the other. Marriages endure. People make commitments and keep them. Of course, from the vantage point of our relatively faithless society, it is easy to mock the picture I am sketching by finding examples where that sort of world may leave a person trapped in a brutal marriage or a business person snookered by an unscrupulous manipulator. But if you focus on the hard cases and organize society on growing cynicism, you foster selfish individualism, faithlessness, irresponsibility, cultural instability, crookedness, and multiplied armies of lawyers. And sooner or later you will deal with an angry God.

For God despises faithlessness (Mal. 2:1–17). Within the postexilic covenant community of ancient Israel, some of the worst examples of such faithlessness were bound up with the explicitly religious dimensions of the culture—but not all of them:

(1) The lips of the priest should “preserve knowledge” and “from his mouth men should seek instruction—because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty” (2:7). The priest was to revere God and stand in awe of his name (2:5), convey true instruction (2:6), and maintain the way of the covenant (2:8). But because the priests have proved faithless at all this, God will cause them to be despised and humiliated before all the people (2:9). So why is it today that ministers of the Gospel are rated just above used car salesmen in terms of public confidence?

(2) As do some other prophets (e.g., Ezek. 16, 23), Malachi portrays spiritual apostasy in terms of adultery (2:10–12).

(3) Unsurprisingly, faithlessness in the spiritual arena is accompanied by faithlessness in marriages and the home (2:13–16). Oh, these folk can put on quite a spiritual display, weeping and calling down blessings from God. But God simply does not pay any attention. Why not? “It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant” (2:14).

(4) More generically, these people have wearied the Lord with their endless casuistry, their moral relativism (2:17).

“So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith” (2:16).[1]

 

[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.